Monday, December 13, 2010

My thoughts on Cancun Accord

Surprisingly, other than Bolivia no other country opposed to the new Cancun Accord came out of COP 16 negotiations at 3.40 in the morning on 11th December 2010 in the Moon Palace, a Spa and Golf Resort located in Cancun, Mexico far away from the local communities. Bolivia pointed out that this new accord does not provide any mitigation targets and no adequate finance provides for addressing climate crisis which we are facing already. It has set the temperature increase to 2 degrees which will increase 3 degree temperature in the African region. However the African, Asian and Least Developed Countries were not able to negotiate the climate agreement based on the science perhaps due to the high expectations of the financial package. The COP 16 agreed that a 30 billion Dollar short term finance and 100 Billion dollars annually after 2020. But this money is not assured. It will be only mobilised though public and private sources. The trustee will be the Wold Bank who is responsible for climate crisis we face today. In many ways Cancun Accord is nothing more than the Copenhagen Accord II.

G 77 and China, is a block of many large and smaller countries which also include major polluting industrial as well as poorer countries. How can they give one voice? Surprisingly, Venezuela or Cuba did not associate with the views of Bolivia. At the opening of the conference Papua New Guinea argued that no consensus can be achieved in this issue and the decision making process in the UNFCC to be changed to the decision majority. However India argued that consensus can be reached in multilateral negotiations and mentioned the recent decisions taken in the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) held in Nagoya. Therefore the decision making is in the UNFCCC is still based on the consensus. However, the Cancun Accord was adopted with no consensus which is a slap of the face of India. This also question credibility of the UN multilateral process.

Understandably, Bolivia joined the COP 16 negotiations after hosting more than 25,000 people in Cochabamba in April 2010 which established the People’s agreement in Cochabamba. Bolivian President Evo Morales who attended the climate event organised by Via Campasina in the city of Cancun was embraced by the farmers and the civil society. The farmers slept on the concrete floor of the basketball stadium for more than a week while governments negotiate the agreement inside the expensive Moon Palace.

The Bolivian position on the Cancun accord will give much strength to the people’s voice and opportunity for the other governments to think why they are away from people. In most countries people protect the leaders when they do the election campaign. Once they are elected Military protect them from people. However, Evo Morales who attended the farmer’s event was protected by the farmers. I am happy to see that there are leaders who are still protected by the people not by military.

Sunday, December 05, 2010


I remember I met Nnimmo for the first time in the first Oilwatch International meeting held in Mexico City. I met him second time in Ecuador in 1997. He was arrested on arrival at the Nigeria Airport in Lagos on 26th October 1997. He was detained in the airport for the night and transferred to the Head Office of the SSS in Lagos the next morning.

As he wrote us later, "all through Monday I was subjected to rigorous interrogations. I spent Monday night in their cell. No talk of convenience in the cell! I regained partial freedom at about 8 pm on Tuesday night, I was allowed out of their center, but with all my luggage held hostage. That included my eye glasses, wedding ring, wrist watch and wallet. I was further interrogated on Wednesday and Thursday. Centred on my involvement in the struggle for a better environment in Nigeria. Centred also on my activism in the Oilwatch network. I was finally released yesterday [Friday 31st October 1997]. My luggage was returned to me but my Passport is still being held."

Where is the liberty? Where my freedom? Our freedom?? I have to keep reporting to the SSS and that in itself is dangerous! That's the price to pay for fighting for an environment suitable for mankind. He wrote..

Now Nnimmo is the Chairperson of the Friends of the Earth International, the largest grassroots environmental network. This Monday Nnimmo Bassey will be one of the five recipients of the 2010 Right Livelihood Award. This award is often referred to as the 'Alternative Nobel Prize'.

Nnimmo Bassey, who is also Executive Director of Friends of the Earth Nigeria, was nominated for this award "for revealing the full ecological and human horrors of oil production and for his inspired work to strengthen the environmental movement in Nigeria and globally."

Bravo Nnimmo!

No to World Bank and ADB role in climate finance

Yesterday( 3rd December 2010) over hunderd people coming from various parts of the world took part in a mobilization in Cancun city, Mexico against giving any role to the World Bank in climate financing. They demand that World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other regional banks should not handle climate finance due to the undemocratic governance structure of these banks and their contribution to the climate crisis by financing fossil fuel based power plants. Civil society demands that future climate finance should be deliverd under a fund managed by the UNFCCC.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Will Japan kill the Kyoto Protocol?

December 30th Japan announced that it will abandon the Kyoto Protocol. Many climate negotiators felt that this as a threat to the progress needed at the UN climate talks in Cancun.

Kyoto Protocol is the only treaty that could tackle growing greenhouse gas emissions by rich countries. This historic treaty was, ironically, agreed to in Japan, which chaired the third Conference of the Parties under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1997.

According to Yuri Onodera, Friends of the Earth Japan: "Japan's move to drop out of the Kyoto treaty shows a severe lack of recognition of its own historical and moral responsibility. With this position, Japan isolates itself from the rest of the world. Even worse, this step undermines the ongoing talks and is a serious threat to the progress needed here in Cancun."

All rich countries, including Japan, should agree on cutting their emissions by at least 40 percent by 2020, without resorting to carbon offsetting, and commit to this under a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.There will be no excuse if they kill the Kyoto Protocol at this critical moment.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Another Copenhagen?

Hemantha Withanage
COP16 or climate negotiation was started in Cancun in Mexico with many ambitions by the parties on 29th November. Representative form Venezuela said we have 15 days to save the world. In Copenhagen in 2009 some representatives told that we have 10 days to save the world. But while many countries were in open negotiations, United States sweeps the process by bringing 26 countries to a close door process which resulted the Copenhagen Accord. Later 140 countries signed. I am happy that Sri Lanka is one country that did not associated even with the pressure from the US.

It was told that Mexican Government has invited Heads of the States of the G20 countries to the high level segment of the Cancun negotiations but not others. Civil society believes that it will once again destroy the negotiations. However, it looks most people either in the negotiation rooms or observers have no much hope on Cancun.

Sri Lankan Role in Cancun negotiations

Hemantha Withanage,
Centre for Environmental Justice/Friends of the Earth Sri Lanka

In 1992, all of the world’s governments pledged their commitment, through an international agreement, to adopt measures to prevent a climate disaster. This is what gave rise to the Framework Convention on Climate Change, which almost all of the world’s governments have signed and ratified. Therefore all government have the responsibility – to protect this common good of all humankind, the global climate.

Governments will be participation in the sixteenth time to resolve climate Change related problems. The last several meetings have not moved beyond negotiating over secondary issues and have failed to tackle the climate the problem and agree on the elimination of fossil fuel emissions in the shortest time possible. There are indications that the next meeting in Cancun will follow in these same footsteps.

Nevertheless, the world still has hope that governments will adopt the decisions needed to prevent a climate disaster, and it is prepared to support them. In order for this hope to inspire this support, what is needed are clear signs of a complete change of attitude. In this regard, the main sign would be placing fossil fuels at the centre of the debate. The time has come to put aside discussion of false solutions that have been so eagerly espoused (“carbon sinks”, “avoided deforestation-REDD”, the “Clean Development Mechanism”, “carbon offsets”, etc.) to focus on the real problem: how to move beyond the fossil fuel era as quickly as possible.

We realize that this is an enormous challenge, but is it really too much to ask, when what is at stake is nothing less than the survival of life on earth? The groups gathered in the leadership of the Bolivian Government in October 2010 agreed several steps and made proposals to the United Nations which is also called as Cochabamba agreement.Specific proposals from the Cochabamba Agreement included in the negotiation text are:

• 50% domestic reduction of greenhouse gasses emissions by Annex 1 countries for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol years from 2013 to 2017.
• Stabilize the rise of temperature to 1ยบ C and 300 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
• Guarantee an equitable distribution of atmospheric space, taking into account the climate debt of emissions by developed countries.
• Full respect for the Human Rights and the inherent rights of indigenous peoples, women, children, migrants, and peasants and other small producers.
• Full recognition to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
• Recognition and defense of the Rights of Mother Earth to ensure harmony with nature.
• Guarantee the fulfillment of the commitments from the developed countries though the building of an International Court of Climate Justice.
• Rejection of the mechanisms of carbon markets that transfer the responsibility of the reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases from developed countries to developing countries.
• Promotion of measures that change the consumption patterns of the developed countries.
• Promotion of national policies that could improve local markets and food sovereignty instead of supporting global markets and exportation.
• Adoption of necessary measures in all relevant forums to exclude from the protection of the intellectual property rights those technologies to mitigate climate change.
• Developed countries will allocate 6% of their national gross product to actions relevant to Climate Change to repair the ecological debt from the North and use this to adaptation and mitigation measures in the global South.
• Integrated management of forests for mitigation and adaptation, without applying market mechanisms and with the full participation of indigenous peoples and local communities.
• Prohibition of the conversion of natural forest and other valuable ecosystems for plantations, since the monoculture plantations are not forest; Instead, to encourage the protection and conservation of natural forests.
• The management of funds and policies related to climate change must be under the governance of the UNFCCC.

We believe that Sri Lankan delegation should support these demands and push the G77 countries to support the same.

Among the various proposals at the negotiation table Reducing Emissions from Deforestation
and Forest Degradation (REDD) would be one issue that will be discussed in COP 16. We believe REDD does not give adequate benefits to Sri Lanka as some forest heavy countries are already in the front line. Further, we believe REDD or REDD plus would be harmful to the local communities and their livelihood will be in danger. We believe Sri Lanka be concern about this aspect when negotiating at the COP 16.

Adaptation will be the most important issue that Sri Lanka should have a position and need to focus more to obtain necessary finance and financial mechanism relation to adaptation. Adaptation fund and proposed Climate fund under UNFCC would be worthwhile initiative to support.

The reduction of GHG emission will be the most important for future. Sri Lanka must support reducing emission by cutting down the 50% domestic reduction of greenhouse gasses emissions by Annex 1 countries for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol years from 2013 to 2017.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Don’t Nuke Sri Lanka Please!

Hemantha Withanage
Executive Director, Centre for Environmental Justice

Sri Lanka is becoming a power hungry nation. Unnecessary lighting and unsustainable electricity consumption need more and more power generation. Despite the protest against coal power, Sri Lanka is building several coal power station with 3200 MW generation capacity. 1000 MW by the China and another 1000 MW by India are on the way. New Energy Minister (Former Environmental Minister) Champika Ranawaka now wants to become the nuclear champion by building a Nuclear Power plant by 2025. It is pity that Minister Ranawaka who started his environmental carrier as an activist against the coal power has now playing this role to supply power for energy hungry and unsustainable development paradigm.

A year ago, in the time of annual meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency Professor Tissa Vitarana Minister of Science and Technology was somehow become convinced that Nuclear power is the future power option for Sri Lanka. He said that Thorium deposits available in some parts of Sri Lanka can be a source of energy. Minister Ranwaka who attended the 54th annual meeting in this year suddenly becomes vocal on the same plan. It seems now Minister Tissa Vitarana found another Minister to back his idea.

The news appeared in the Daily Mirror of 5th September 2009 reporting that Minister Tissa Vitarana has invited Indian scientists to conduct a feasibility study to search for Thorium deposits in the Southern coastal belt for use as an energy source for nuclear power generation in Sri Lanka with the assistance from the Indian Government. However, Minister Ranawaka is looking for the assistance from the Russian scientist.

There is very much protest to the promotion of nuclear power by the general public in worldwide. The meltdown in Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear power plant in April 1986 was the world's worst nuclear disaster. The explosion of the nuclear reactor killed at least 32 immediately. However, thousands more have died since 1986 due to related diseases. Over 100,000 people were evacuated from the region following the blast. Radiation is still a problem in the region.

According to Benjamin K. Sovacool that worldwide there have been 99 fatal accidents at nuclear power plants from 1952 to 2009, totaling US$20.5 billion in property damages. Fifty-seven accidents have occurred since the Chernobyl disaster and almost two-thirds (56 out of 99) of all nuclear-related accidents have occurred in USA which has access to latest technology.

As we have seen in other countries, nuclear power is a risky and dangerous source of power. It needs pre-processing, maintenance, waste disposal and decommissioning involving very high risks and sensitivity.

One of the foremost facts of nuclear power plants is the construction cost. Recently built nuclear plants in some countries cost more than several billions of US dollars. In the Sri Lankan scenario, this will lead to a big financial risk. Also it takes more than one decade to construct such a plant. Therefore considering the financial constraints and the time involved, a nuclear power plant is not the best solution to meet the present growing demands of energy of the country. According to some economists nuclear power plants involve very high construction costs with low fuel cost. While the cost is from the government, the risk is for the people and benefits go to the construction companies rather than the public.

Thorium deposits exhaust and will not last more than 50-60 years according to the researchers. The problem arising here will be supplying of energy source when deposits are drained. If the material has to be imported (from Russia or elsewhere), the proposed targets will not be achieved and will be another burden on the country’s finances.

The environmental hazards due to mining of Thorium have to be addressed widely. Extraction of radioactive elements, such as Thorium, gives rise to considerable amounts of radioactive waste which cannot be under estimated. The safe disposal and transportation of residues of such plants also have to be given substantial considerations. Also social, economical and environmental measures need to be adopted to prevent possible nuclear disasters. There are many residents living around and working in Indian Uranium mining sites facing death and other health problems.

It is true that the countries who developed Nuclear power should consult the neighbouring nations. India did not follow this agreement when they develop number of nuclear station in the southern tip of India. Any disaster in these plants may also cause risks to Sri Lanka too.

As we have learned, Nuclear power is not carbon neutral. According to some researches, “the nuclear fuel cycle is responsible for emitting 84 to 122 grams of carbon dioxide for every KWh, mostly from mining, plant construction, and plant decommissioning.

Another factor that may be of interest is the issue of liability. As experienced in other countries, nuclear equipment suppliers will expect an immunity clause before providing equipment or services. The clause(s) will either limit liability to a ridiculously low amount and/or immunize private equipment manufacturers, service providers altogether from any liabilities arising from a meltdown or nuclear disaster.

These are few reasons that we must consider before thinking nuclear power in Sri Lanka. It is hard to understand why we go for these risky and unsustainable options when we have sustainable sources such as wind, solar, dendro, small hydro and wave. Hope ministers don’t forget that Energy sovereignty when dealing with energy security.

Photo Credit:

Monday, September 20, 2010

Public Toilet, school toilets and sanitation

Hemantha Withanage,
Centre for Environmental Justice

Public toilets should not be the dirtiest place in your neighbourhood. Yet most public toilets, school toilets, toilets in estates are not clean and adequate. Commuters, school children and urban dwellers seriously suffer from this problem. You can hardly find a clean toilet in Colombo, Kandy and other urban centres. All railway stations, bus stands, even small eateries where long distant buses stops have very dirty, smelly toilets. More than men women suffer most from this problem. Have you ever thought of how women and school girls suffer due to unclean toilets?

Open defecation – the riskiest sanitation practice. Although there are no official figures available, Sri Lanka still has this problem. This practice decline worldwide, with a global decrease from 25% in 1990 to 17% in 2008, representing a decrease of 168 million people practicing open defecation since 1990. However, this practice is still widely spread in South Asia, where an estimated 44% of the population defecates in the open. Globally, 1.2 billion people practice open defecation, two thirds – 778 million –in South Asia.

This is due to the lack of toilets, attitude, perhaps ignorance and lack of awareness. Sri Lanka with very high literacy awareness may not be the case. However, compare to other countries in Asia, Sri Lanka has achieved its sanitations Millennium Development target. Yet lack of toilets is a significant issue in some areas.

Clean Water and Sanitation are two sides of the coin. Clean affordable water is a human right. In South Asia only 81% people have access to clean water. In Sri Lanka 77% people enjoy clean drinking water exceeding the MDG targets.

Rural areas lagging in water and sanitation globally. Seven out of ten people without basic sanitation are rural inhabitants and more than eight out of ten people without access to improved drinking water sources live in rural areas.

A similar disparity is found between the poor and non-poor. Richest are more than twice as likely to use an improved drinking-water source and almost five times more likely to use improved sanitation facilities.

Sanitation is fundamental to personal hygiene and maintaining a clean environment within households for a healthy family. However, with almost 39% of the world’s population or over 2.6 billion people living without improved sanitation facilities, are far from reaching the sanitation MDG target. According to the WHO if the current trend continues unchanged, the international community will miss the 2015 sanitation MDG by almost one billion people.

The Delhi declaration, the outcome of the third South Asian Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN III) held in 2008, recognizes that access to Sanitation and Safe Drinking Water is a basic right, and accordingly national priority to sanitation is imperative. This also confirms their commitment to achieving National and Millennium Developmental Goals (MDGs) on Sanitation in a time bound manner in all participating countries in South Asia. It asserts that achieving total and sustainable sanitation in all rural and urban communities in their countries is not only possible but also is their esteemed goal.

Millennium development goal have set the targets to halve the population with no sanitation by 2015. Strong political leadership is needed to address this crisis. Countries in the SAARC region established a regional corporation to facilitate efforts to meet the sanitation challenge in the region. The South Asia Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN) is used as the platform for dialogue and influence to mobilize political will to focus on sanitation.

It was revealed that unhygienic practices, due to lack of sanitation, by the majority of people in the region are a serious public health threat to the quality of life. The main cause of child morbidity in the region under the age of five years is due to water and sanitation related diseases. Diarrhea continues to be the leading cause of child deaths in South Asia and poor sanitation- alongside unsafe drinking water- causes 88% of these deaths according to the World Health Organisation. According to the UNICEF/WHO “at current rate of progress, the 2015 MDG target for sanitation will not be met in South Asia until 2043- 28 years too late.”The 8 countries in the SACOSAN process have determined that programmes for good sanitation and hygiene promotion should be accelerated in order to improve quality of life of people and to reduce child mortality and morbidity.

Sanitation targets cannot be achieved unless there is a great political will and without right attitudinal changes. It’s true that SACOSAN process has influenced member countries to prepare policies and programmes towards meeting sanitation goals. As a result many countries have formulated sanitation policies focusing on sustainable sanitation, increased community subsidies and mobilized more resources for promotion, creating awareness among people and building political will. However, the political will is essential at the local level too.

Right to sanitation is a basic human right. How many Municipalities, Urban Councils Pradeshiya Sabas, school principles, station masters, small eatery owners, and Estate managers have taken this serious? Why not the Public Health Inspectors, Environmental Police keep eye on public toilets, school toilets and estate toilets?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Vehicle emission tests – another scam

Hemantha Withanage
Centre for Environmental Justice

Things we do with genuine interest can go wrong. When I supported Lawyer Lalanath de Silva to bring a lawsuit on air pollution, it was not the expectation to generate a massive corruption cycle. But the vehicle emission testing mechanism adopted in Sri Lanka has now have created a mass corruption cycle from testing personal to the police.

During the hearing Lalanath De Silva urge the Sri Lanka`s Supreme Court to rule that citizens have a fundamental right to a healthy environment. Sri Lanka`s constitution guarantees a right to life, but Colombo`s air is so polluted that breathing it damages peoples` lungs he said. Lalanath asserts that Sri Lanka`s government — by failing to implement adequate air quality standards — is violating Sri Lankans` right to life.

It is true that well tuned engine save environment, fuel and money. However, the vehicle emission test procedure resulted on the case does not resolve the problems. The vehicles with pollution can be passed with extra charge. My own experience is a bitter story which is true for many drivers. Some old vehicles which come to the emission testing happily leave the place with a pass report. I was wondering how they do it. My vehicle failed four times this year but someone was able to obtain the emission report after paying extra 500 Rs. This cleared my doubt. I checked with many drivers and garage mechanics and several of them have gone through similar experience.

The corruption is the current emission testing procedure is not just part of the corruption culture that exists is many sectors in Sri Lanka. The non implementation of basic agreements, checks and balances that were needed before the implementation of the process are the main reasons.

Corruption in testing centers operated by both companies involve in testing programme is one of the problem. Perhaps most people see those who take bribes and pass the vehicle as their saviors to get rid of the regulation requirement. Most testing staff have no training and experience on handling and understanding the mechanical problems of a vehicle. Mean time garage mechanics don't understand the science of emission testing.

Drivers are running between the garages to the testing place to the spare parts shop blindly. They are eager to pass the vehicle to obtain the Vehicle Revenue License. They blindly listen to the mechanics and the testing people and spend money to cure the vehicle problem. In my experience testing personal doesn’t know which part should be replace or repair when the test failed. One testing place recommended me a name of an expert in the head office who was not able to contact.

Sometime garage mechanics try to make money out of this business. One mechanic suggested me to remove the engine head and clean with the cost of Rs 15,000. Then I took the vehicle to the manufacturer and they tuned the vehicle with new plugs and air filter but failed the emission test again. I found the agent even did not have an emission testing equipments at that time. If the manufacturer cannot handle the problems how can we expect mechanics to do it?

How can one expect the garage mechanics who use the eyes and ears when tuning the engine to understand the Hydrocarbon, Carbon Monoxide and Carbon Dioxide levels which are the tests do in the emission testing centres? Meantime testing persons were not able to tell me which part has the problem. Garage mechanic told me they retard the engine and reduce the petrol flow in order to pass the test, however the vehicles cannot run on the road with that fake tuning. So all the vehicles convert back to the original garage tuning in order to drive the vehicle. So this brings the vehicle back to the original pollution status. Does this resolve the vehicle pollution problem of ensure right to life?

Therefore I believe current emission test is a money making machine for many groups and for the government. As someone experienced testing people get bribe to pass the vehicle and police get bribes not to fine those polluting vehicles. I have learned that the Motor Traffic Department itself has earned 10% of the testing charges which has now come to Rs.80 million. They have done nothing to resolve the current problems of the system. Therefore I suggest that this vehicle emission testing should be suspended until testing programme
• produce accredited list of garages and train garage mechanics
• recruit well trained staff to vehicle emission testing centres who knows garage language and technical language
• Establish an advisory service for those vehicle drivers and for the mechanics to explain which part of the vehicle should be replaced or repair and give a sheet of paper with guidelines that garage should follow in order to repair a failed engine.
• develop a mechanism to stop taking bribes
• provide at least a small testing equipment to all the accredited garages

I believe that Motor traffic Department should spend the revenues from the testing charges to train garage mechanics. I also believe the AirMAC and the Motor Traffic Department should organize a monitoring and consultation mechanism to deal with the above issues with the participation of academics and civil society. I far as I know, the above are not new proposals, but the agencies have failed to implement them to date. Failure to do this will be seen as a big racket which justify the vehicle pollution with a piece of paper in hand. Finally, tell me how to tune my vehicle to pass the test in the proper way.

Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead in Paints launched

Hemantha Withanage and Chamali Liyanage
Centre for Environmental Justice

Lead in paint is a major health problem to both children and the adult population. While eliminating lead in new paint is on the way, lead in legacy paint or old paint coatings in buildings remain a major problem. The World health Organization(WHO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) led “Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead in Paints” was launched in Geneva, in May 2010 considering the gravity of lead in paint problem in the world.

In 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) committed itself to take actions to protect human health from exposure to lead. Paragraph 56 was on lead in gasoline and was implemented an unleaded gasoline was introduced by 2005. However, lead in paint remains a major issue. Paragraph 57 of the Plan of Implementation of the WSSD states:

“Phase out lead in lead-based paints and in other sources of human exposure, work to prevent, in particular, children's exposure to lead and strengthen monitoring and surveillance efforts and the treatment of lead poisoning.”

The International Conference on Chemicals Management at its second session held in Geneva, in May 2009 endorsed the establishment of a global partnership to promote the phase-out of the use of lead in paint as an important contribution to the implementation of paragraph 57 of the Plan of Implementation of the WSSD and to the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management.

According to the WHO and UNEP figures at least 143,000 people die every year due to lead contamination and 600,000 people suffer due to same. Since most countries now have introduced unleaded gasoline, the other major source for lead contamination is lead paint.

Lead paint standards

The paint manufacturers are fast moving towards unleaded paint. Now the standard used in the United States is 90 ppm for Enamel paint. China also use 90 ppm as their standards. Background levels in non-lead paints are between 40 ppm to 5 ppm. There are non lead ingredients now available. The World Health Organization and UNEP have already proposed to limit lead level to 90ppm.

Unfortunately, Sri Lanka is still far behind these standards. As part of the global call against lead in paint, International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) and Toxics Link, India together with ten national organizations carried out a research on Lead in paint in 2009. Centre for Environmental Justice/ Friends of the Earth Sri Lanka, a member of the IPEN are the Sri Lankan collaborators to this research. It was found that out of 33 Sri Lankan paint samples tested from 4 different brands 19 have very high lead levels. Later we tested six samples from the same brands in the ITI, Sri Lanka and proved the high lead levels.

As a response to the call by the Paint Manufacturers Association that our tests were incomplete, we tested another 14 samples and found high lead level in another 10 samples. We have found lead exceeding the acceptable levels such as eg: 137325ppm, 133463ppm, 55237ppm etc. However, we understand that there are a number of unregulated small –time manufacturers who also engage in the business.

Unfortunately, Sri Lanka does not have MANDATORY STANDARDS to date. This will remain a problem since the Consumer Affairs Authority is silent on this issue. However, as a response to the finding of the CEJ, the draft specifications (first Revision- SLS 539:2010 dated 2010-04-30) on enamel paint were made available for public comments last month. Draft standards for Toys and Accessories are now available for public comments until 25 June 2010. Both these standards will be voluntary standards. While the voluntary standards have a moderate value, it does not achieve the purpose of regulating the lead in paint.

Yet, the draft standards are far behind the international standards. The draft only proposed 600ppm standard for lead which is totally inadequate. This is the old standard for many countries. Therefore we strongly suggest that this specification should bring the lead level down to 90 ppm at least as the technology and alternative materials are readily available. According to experts this is achievable.

According to the draft specifications, only Lead and Chromium levels are mandatory and five other metals such as Antimony, Barium, Cadmium, Cobalt and Mercury are optional. Cadmium is a very toxic substance and sometimes used in the manufacture of pigments. Previous amendment No 4 to SLS 539:1981 approved on 2003-02-19 Specification for Enamel paint specifies limits for Antimony, Arsenic, Barium, Cadmium, Chromium, Cobalt, Lead, Mercury, Selenium and Thallium. It is hard to understand the reasons for putting some of them as optional and the complete removal of Arsenic, Selenium and Thallium from this new amendment. We believe that specifications for heavy metals should be made mandatory.

The indicated levels of chromium, antimony, barium, cadmium, cobalt and mercury appear to be way too high. As per our information, in the past, mercury was used in many water-based latex paints as a fungicide to prevent the growth of bacteria in the paint produced in United States. However, Mercury use in interior and exterior latex paint was banned in the United States in 1991. Therefore, we propose elimination of Mercury in both interior and exterior paint under this specification.

According to the Occupational Health Department, many paint workers are vulnerable to high lead contamination. They are subject to lead contamination during wall preparations and painting. According to the new draft the level of lead should be indicated on the label of the container. But it may contain other heavy metals, which are not mandatory, in high levels. This "marking"/ labeling requirement is inadequate There are precedents in other countries, such as United Kingdom, that they show all the levels in the label. Therefore we request that a requirement be included to display the levels of all heavy metals in the label with a statement "Complies with the maximum concentration of Lead, Chromium, Antimony, Arsenic, Barium, Cadmium, Cobalt, Selenium, Thallium and Mercury as defined in XXX standard". This will give a warning to consumers when choosing the products and also it will promote manufacturers to avoid such toxic levels.

Paints and especially paint dust are harmful to people. Some developed countries carry instructions on how to prepare the walls and remove legacy paint. We believe that the paint container should display a warning on disturbing old lead paints for surface preparation that they may contaminate soil and interior dust which can result in significant exposures of workers, children, pregnant woman and building occupants. Exposure to lead dust can cause serious illnesses, such as brain damage, especially in children. Pregnant women should avoid exposure completely. There should be a warning to wear an approved respirator to control lead exposure and use of a vacuum and a wet mop in removing and cleaning the surface.

Most countries produce paint with no added lead. We also propose that although this specification suggests a higher limit to total lead, there should also be another specification which says “no added lead”. Since the countries are already going for 90 ppm lead limit and “no added lead” requirements, the Sri Lankan paint manufacturers will be at risk if they produce paint with 600ppm lead to the international market. Therefore, this specification needs to protect them from such risks.

Lead in paint is not only a health and environmental issue but also a social and environmental justice issue too. It is known that some paint manufacturers produce low lead paint for the international markets while producing high level lead paint for the local market. All people should join the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead in Paints for the sake of your children and own health.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dambakola Patuna

I had a rare chance to visit Dambakola Patuna, the place which Sangamitta Therani landed in Sri Lanka with the most sacred Bo tree which is in Anuradhapura today. Sangamitta Therani is the only daughter of King Dharmashoka and the sister of Arhat Mahinda who introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka. The Bo tree was was brought to Sri lanka during King Devanampiyatissa (306BC-266 BC) and planted in Mahamewna Uyana.
Dambakola Patuna is located about 20 km from Jaffna town and 10 km from Kankasanthurai. Dambakola Patuna is not very far from Keermale water ponds.

Point Pedro

Point Pedro is a place at north which had no acess to civilians in the past 3 decades. Length of Sri Lanka measure from Dondra point( Devundara Thuduwa)in the Southern Province near Matara to Point Pedro( Peduru Thuduwa) in the Nothern Province near Jaffna. Distance between two points is 432 kilometers.Unlike the sandy coast with strong waves in Dondra, Point Pedro has calm ocean with coral beach. I was fortunate to see the other corner of Sri Lanka first time in my life in April 2010.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Demise of environmentalist Piyal Parakrama

Among number of environmentalist Piyal was one of the leading person with his charismatic and controversial voice in protecting the environment. The news on his demise on the 3rd March 2010 was a shock to me.

I met Piyal soon after I joined the Environmental Foundation in 1990 as an environmental officer. Piyal was already an environmental campaigner with his background at the Young Zoologist Association. I remember, Dharman Wickramarathne, Sudharman Radaliayagoda, Piyal and myself attended a meeting in Puttalam against shrimp farming in the lagoon in that early days. Since then we have worked together against coal power plants, proposed garbage disposal in Meepe, Upper Kotmale, Kukule Ganga and many other environmental issues. I remember we had some differences on the approach to some issues but it was a common goal that we wanted to achieve.

We have an unfinished environmental struggle. His death will be great loss to the common citizens and the environmental movement which he served with his volunteer activism. He has offered more than he gained from the nature that he belongs and he loved. May you attain Nibbana!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Deadly lead in all house paints available in Sri Lanka

Hemantha Withanage

Science still does not play its role in protecting people. Among various cases a study found that new household paints sold in Sri Lanka contained large amount of deadly lead. Those decorative paints with Yellow and green color contain very high lead levels. The study conducted by the Toxics Link together with IPEN together with Centre for Environmental Justice found lead in 33 paint samples out of 33 tested (100%). Fifteen paint samples exceeded permitted lead levels for paints in the Sri Lanka. The study also found safer paints with identical colors that did not contain lead.

Among the key findings of the study, 69% samples exceeded the current Sri Lanka lead in paint standard of 600 ppm. The highest sample contained 137,325 ppm lead, 1526 times greater than the US limit and 228 times higher than SLS standards.

Lead causes irreversible nervous system damage and decreased intelligence at extremely low doses. Lead exposure in childhood has been associated with lower vocabulary and grammatical-reasoning scores, increased absenteeism, poorer eye-to-hand coordination, and lower class standing in high school.

The U.S. EPA has determined that lead is a probable human carcinogen. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Healthy Environments for Children Alliance, “There is no known safe blood lead level but it is known that, as lead exposure increases, the range and severity of symptoms and effects also increases.” One of the largest causes of lead exposure is lead-contaminated dust from decaying paint. Lead ingestion and poisoning typically occurs through hand-to-mouth activity.

Lead threatens a child’s brain development and health. Child lead poisoning should be taken seriously and parents should be aware of possible pathways of exposure including lead paint in one’s home.

The question remains why those authorities who are responsible for regulating those products were unable to play their role.